Trend-Spotting

In a scandal-ridden election year, the year's top ten music stories were all about winning the popular vote.

Britney got married. Ashlee was caught lip-synching. ODB died. Congress continued to wring its hands about the legality of downloads, which flourished anyway. Conservative groups condemned sex in popular culture, while Usher's sultry Confessions shot to No. 1. A major label signed a guy who can't sing, can't dance and can't write for an album of covers people bought because it was so bad. Oh, and there were some surprises.

1. Two words: "wardrobe malfunction.Ó It was the nipple that launched a thousand shit fits. Janet Jackson's little imbroglio set the trend for a year that saw the FCC knuckle down on indecency and Bush win re-election on the back of "moral values' -- while the rest of us prattled on about the significance of some Superbowl tit. Now who's the boob?

2. Vote for Change tour. Bruce Springsteen and company gave an honest-to-goodness team effort, but in the end, the Vote for Change tour made little difference outside people's bank statements. Guess Americans would rather base their votes on something like political beliefs as opposed to the endorsements of Dave Matthews and, uh, Jackson Browne. Which is why it's no surprise to see the Brits recently return to the '80s blueprint of "Do They Know It's Christmas?' Maybe musicians can't swing votes, but they can sure as hell raise money.

3. Danger Mouse,The Grey Album. Atlanta native Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse, created the piéce de résistance of pirate mash-ups that, while sometimes lacking in delivery, boasted a flawless concept. And the fallout? A legal tangle, sure, along with fawning press and a gajillion downloads. In October, Beck and the Neptunes released the first legally sanctioned mash-up, "Frontin' on Debra' -- signaling, perhaps, that the party was officially over.

4. Lollapaloozers. Despite securing a lineup that Pitchfork.com breathlessly deemed "the best in a decade,' Perry Farrell's alt-festival imploded because of poor ticket sales. Critics waxed apoplectic about the state of indie music, but the lineup -- including Morrissey, Sonic Youth and the Flaming Lips -- appealed not to the teens who actually attend grueling all-day summer concerts (see Ozzfest and the Vans Warped Tour), but to the same aging hipsters who enjoyed Lollapalooza the first time around.

5. Eat the PixiesÕ dust. Some successful comebacks are no-brainers: Prince? Duh. Morrissey? Well, okay, sure. But the Pixies? Who would have thought these overweight, aging '80s rockers would ignite so much excitement? Sold-out shows. Hysterical fans. The band even proved its business savvy, selling CDs of their live show after each concert. Death to the Pixies? Not anytime soon.

6. Music onThe OC. With Clear Channel pulling the strings of commercial radio, indie rock clamored to find new axes of entry. The Shins appeared on The Gilmore Girls. The Polyphonic Spree appeared on Scrubs. But nothing could compare to the launching pad that is Fox's luscious teen fantasia, The OC. The show broke Death Cab for Cutie and turned Phantom Planet's "California' into a suburban sing-along. By year's end, it was official: Even U2 wanted in.

7. Howard Stern gets SIRIUS. In February, Clear Channel dropped Howard Stern from its stations, citing a "zero tolerance' policy on indecency. The ingenious if infantile Stern turned around and signed to SIRIUS, ushering in a new era for satellite radio, which may well become the audio corollary to cable television. Hey, Clear Channel: Time to wave goodbye to that monopoly.

8. Reality shows as infomercial. As if American Idol weren't enough. The staggering career revitalization of Ozzy and Jessica wasn't lost on Missy Elliott, INXS or TLC, all of whom announced their plans to host upcoming reality shows. Meanwhile, Ashlee Simpson -- with little critical acclaim and even less talent -- saw her first album, Autobiography, debut at No. 1, primarily on the basis of her own darling real-life sitcom, The Ashlee Simpson Show on MTV.

9. Stick a Pitchfork in it. Once the stamping grounds for obscure musicologists and other emotional retreads, Pitchfork.com finally came into its own this year, becoming the go-to site capable of trumping (and scooping!) Spin and Rolling Stone. It even got its own little scandal, in the form of writer Brent DiCrescenzo, who resigned in a shitstorm of controversy about -- oh, why bother? Just read about it on Pitchfork, like everything else.

10. Garden StateÕs new slang. Sometimes music critics lose hope. We give you all this ink, this finely wrought hyperbole, and people still think the Shins are just another part of their body. With soulful selections from that Albuquerque band, along with Iron & Wine and Zero7, the soundtrack to Zach Braff's film succeeded where a thousand rock critics failed: It introduced suburban teens and twenty-somethings to the best in indie rock.

 
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